Knight Center
Knight Center


U.S. government still fighting to force New York Times reporter to reveal his sources

Reporters Without Borders is urging the U.S. government to drop its bid to force New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his confidential sources. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal to require Risen to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, an ex-CIA agent accused of leaking classified information to Risen.

“Forcing Risen to testify is an attempt to muzzle every journalist who might publish leaked information. It is an attempt to decide what should and should not be in the press,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

Risen first was subpoenaed to testify in 2008 under the Bush administration. Risen refused, and the subpoena expired when President Obama took office. However, the Obama administration issued another subpoena in 2010 which U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed. Then earlier this year yet another subpoena was issued to force Risen to testify in the Sterling case, which Brinkema again quashed, arguing that "a criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter's notebook," Politico reported. The Justice Department is appealing that decision, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explained.

The Obama administration has initiated five prosecutions under the Espionage Act for cases of leaked information – more than any other administration, according to Politico. This is despite the Obama administration’s supposed stance for transparency and openness.

The U.S. has no federal shield law for journalists.

Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald said the repeated attempts to force Risen to testify are contributing to a “climate of fear” and the suppression of freedom. “Few things are more effective in creating a Climate of Fear — one that deters investigation and disclosure and stifles the exercise of basic rights — than prosecuting prominent people for having challenged and undermined the government’s agenda,” Greenwald wrote. “As Risen documents, that — plainly — is what this prosecution and the Obama administration’s broader anti-whistleblower war is about: chilling the exercise of basic rights and the ability to challenge government actions.


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